We get plenty of bike industry visitors here at BikeRadar, but it's always a particular pleasure when a genuine cycling legend pops in, especially when it's someone of the stature of John Tomac.
For those who are new to the sport, Tomac was the mountain bike racer during his late 1980s/early 1990s heyday – highlighted by the fact that in 1991, while riding for Raleigh, he not only won the cross-country world championships but came a close second in the downhill too, despite a tendency for running drop bars on his mountain bikes.
He also came first overall in the cross-country World Cup that same year, won the US national champs 10 times and had successful careers as a BMX and road racer too. The softly spoken American is in the UK to promote his latest range of Tomac bikes, so we grabbed a few moments with him and brand owner Joel Smith ahead of the official launch at Cwmcarn today.
The Tomac brand, originally started in 1998 with Manitou founder Doug Bradbury, was relaunched three years ago by the man himself and former Manitou/Answer product manager Smith, with the aim of producing high-quality mountain bikes made by riders for riders – and the pair say that's how it's going to continue.
For 2010, they've overhauled their popular Snyper 140 and Automatic 120 models, and introduced a new Vanish 160mm-travel bike and Flint 29er hardtail. Although the range has widened, both Tomac and Smith ruled out the possibility of producing a cyclo-cross machine or any female-specific models.
They hope to grow the brand in the UK – Britain is already their second biggest market, after Germany – with the help of new distributors Hotlines, who also handle Lapierre, Lynskey, Ghost and Ragley.
Smith said what sets their bikes apart is that they "sweat every detail", from frame alignment to cable routing, and have an expert tester in the shape of Tomac, who in his racing days was that rare thing – a pro rider who could verbalise exactly what needed changing with his bike, from frame geometry to the minutiae of suspension setup.
BikeRadar: Tell us a bit about your new bikes...
Smith: "We were working on a 160mm bike. We were looking at taking the basic package of the Snyper, removing the carbon [seatstays] but keeping the same shock ratio and trying to keep the rear end really compact and stiff.
"We developed a new suspension system [Instant Active Suspension, which adds a short driver link to Tomac's original linkage activated single pivot design] and when we rode it, it not only had all the characteristics we wanted but actually improved the responsiveness of the suspension.
Tomac's Vanish 160 features the company's new IAS suspension design
"My thought initially was that we would lose pedalling performance, but you ride a Vanish and it pedals amazingly and the suspension response is so much quicker. Once we saw that improvement on the Vanish, we quickly added it to the Snyper and Automatic. We haven't changed the [100mm-travel] Carbide because as you get lower in travel you don't get the same improvement."
What kind of involvement do you have in the business these days, John?
Tomac: "I help Joel initially with product planning and then Joel tends to work on the design. When it comes to prototype testing, that's when I come back into play again, in terms of defining the ride characteristics."
Smith: "He's a huge help in getting products from concept to reality."
Are you out riding every day?
Tomac: "I ride as needed. Joel rides more than me."
Smith: "I have to – it's the only way I can keep up!"
John, with your son Eli about to do his first pro motocross race, do you ever miss your racing days?
Tomac: "I miss the simplicity of life – I was racing, training, eating, travelling and sleeping, and that was it. I don't miss the competition. I was a BMX racer for 10 years and than had 15 years of mountain biking. When I stopped, one of the main reasons was that I didn't feel the need to win any more."
Smith: "Which were your favourite races?"
Tomac: "For cross-country, Houffalize, where I won in, I think, 1992, and Mount Snow. For downhill, Mount Snow again and Nevegal – that was a really fantastic, hard course. And my favourite win was the world champs in 1991."
Joel Smith is the man at the helm of Tomac Mountain Bikes
Look out for more from Tomac Mountain Bikes here on BikeRadar and in What Mountain Bike and Mountain Biking UK magazines soon.